hoarders

I am desperately afraid of losing my memory. Sometime last year, I read neuroscientist Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, about a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t the finest piece of literature I’ve ever read, but I read it in a single sitting and sobbed for HOURS. To lose your memory seems, to me, akin to losing your sense of self, your purpose, the ability to comprehend and interpret the world that you’ve painstakingly refined since birth.

My friends and I spend a good deal of time reminiscing. I mean, I know everyone does this, but I’m not sure that anyone is as hardcore about it as we are. We can pass hours reconstructing the events of a single night in gory detail, prompted by the memory of an object or a moment–it goes something like this:

“I would really kill for one of R.M.’s brownies right now.”

“Do you remember the last time we had them? It was the night we crashed the end of a cast party for a show we weren’t in–”

“OMG, I fucking HATED that show. J.W. was the director–you remember J.W.? She was psycho–”

“Wait, but wasn’t that the show where B.P. was shirtless?”

“When was B.P. NOT shirtless? Whatever. But remember, we were at the cast party, and we had run into J.F. in the College Center on the way–”

Here J.F. himself interrupts. “I still can’t believe you didn’t make me come with you! I was in the midst of making a VERY BAD life decision!”

“Um, YEAH, you were. But seriously, J.F., when were you not in the midst of making a very bad life decision?”

He sighs.

“Anyway, it was like, March, and it was still super cold, and we weren’t even drunk but we decided to go to this party anyway because R.M. always made really delicious food for parties, and we ran into J.F. on his way to make a really bad life decision, and B.P. had been shirtless, and then we ate brownies. Wait, but what else had we done that night? Why weren’t we with A.S. and M.K.?”

We have memories like elephants. We are a herd of memory-hoarding elephants. It’s silly how much we love to do this, and perhaps a sign that we should be doing more constructive activities as a group, but we’re memory-hoarding elephantine storytellers and maybe we’re writing the sequel to “How I Met Your Mother” and it’s what we like to do. We like to hoard our memories, use them to build stories, marvel at the absurdity of life. 

I hoard memories, for certain. In my living room, I have an ottoman that opens to reveal boxes of journals, photographs, show reviews clipped from newspapers, notes, letters, cards. That’s a lot of paper with a lot of memories that I don’t need to hold in my brain.* And perhaps in decades when I’m in the throes of dementia, I’ll sit for hours digging through my vast stores of paper, unfolding the notes that the cute boy in freshman geometry used to write me back in 2003, tracing my tenuous path to adulthood through a pile of spiral notebooks, aching for the details–details that I could never capture in words or photos or origami or Crayola marker song lyric collages.

There are no words that can capture the most precious feelings. I don’t know how to write a book that will explain to an elderly, confused version of myself how strangely warm it feels to see someone cry because you’re leaving them or how cold it feels when someone leaves you. All the photographs and programs and ticket stubs can’t encapsulate the ecstasy of being onstage. I can’t write a poem about the spins. 

I cling to the most visceral elements of my memories. What will I do when I can no longer remember the feeling of your hands on my back? When I can’t remember how cold I was that night in October, how I had to put on a bathrobe over my sweatshirt to keep out the chill? When I can’t hear the applause of 1300 people giving a standing ovation in the middle of a high school theatre performance? When I can’t relive the feeling of my stomach dropping as the cops burst into the backyard at our Memorial Day roller disco in 2007? When I can’t see the green paper that I used to write my goodbye letter to our house on Brook Bay eleven years ago?

*Guys, what if I started referring to my brain as my personal virtualized storage solution? I AM THE CLOUD. Only I’m not a particularly non-repudiating solution. I can’t vouch for the integrity of my data.

didn’t Dumbledore say something pithy about choices once?

It is a conscious and mindful practice to live, content, with the choices you make. 

Thus spoke my yoga teacher this morning. I’ve taken her class on and off when I’m in Vegas and she is one of the rare yoga teachers whose opening monologues or class themes I take seriously. I have a low tolerance for new-agey bullshit–I don’t generally believe that the divine light within my yoga teacher honors the divine light within me–especially at yoga classes where you can tell that the teacher is just parroting the same crap her instructors feed her. But this teacher is one of a few who put original thought and even research behind her words. She spoke to us today about recent research that has revealed connections among decision-making and the production of various happy-making chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, other things I don’t remember from Intro Psych in 2007), offering a possible explanation for why we never feel satisfied with the choices that we make.

I made a lot of grand and dramatic choices this year, as I do, with little thought behind them. These choices have led me to grand and dramatic places and experiences, but I’ve been disinclined to live contently with them because I am constantly distracted by what else could be. I tend to act on instinct and to make rash decisions based either on what seems most attractive at the time or what will make the best story. It’s kind of a hedonistic, careless way to live and is contrary to my disablingly hesitant nature.

But I believe that had I thought any more critically about the decisions I made this year, I would have traveled down worn, dull paths that brought me no heightened emotion. Living on instinct, aside from the fact that I would probably be an excellent hunter-gatherer if called upon, is a great way to upset expectations and follow a path other than the one that society or your mom or Hollywood or whatever has set out for you. While I probably would have ended up being a professional nerd no matter what path I followed, I have a pocketful of untraditional experiences that set me apart from the rest of the nerds. I love being different and memorable and I’ve achieved this by just doing what seems fun or interesting rather than what other people have done before me. You know how little kids wanted to be a firefighter fairy princess ballerina mailman? I mean, I’m a proposal writer ballerina blogger a cappella singer actress haiku enthusiast. I’m every nerdy yet strangely agile and rhythmic little girl’s dream, entirely because it seemed like it would be fun to take a ballet class and audition for the musical and apply for that long-shot job that my sister’s husband thought I might be good at. There was no indication that any of those paths made sense for me, but I thought they’d be interesting to wander down regardless. 

Nevertheless, I wonder. It’s natural, if I believe what my yoga teacher told us this morning, to consider the alternatives: to wonder if I’d be happier if I lived in a different city or if it would have been more sensible to ignore my feelings for that boy or if I should have found an apartment that allowed cats or if I should have eaten less bacon at breakfast (NEVER) or if–and it continues, in an endless loop of dissatisfaction with my charmed and interesting life caused by the distraction of possibilities.

Perhaps this should be my New Year’s resolution this year: to either live, content, with the choice I have made, or to make a new choice that supersedes the previous one. It seems wasteful, given that I’m pretty sure we’re going to get nuked at some point in the next few years, to spend as much time as I do wallowing in a pile of “what ifs.”

Or perhaps my resolution should be to convince the yoga teachers of the world to stop babbling about divine light and either say something interesting or just STFU and let me savasana a little while longer.

things that used to cause me existential worry that no longer bother me

1. pit stains: I’ve tried all the magical aluminum prescription deodorants in the world. I’m just a sweaty, unfeminine person. It’s okay. I make up for it with my sparkling personality.

2. buying feminine hygiene products: I mean, someone’s gotta let the pimply teenage drugstore clerk know that ladies do, truly, bleed out their uterine lining on a monthly basis.

3. my embarrassing lack of knowledge about current movies and TV: There’s literally nothing I want to do less than watching a midget in fur getting it on with the princess or whatever “Game of Thrones” is about. Plus, I like to think that it makes me look more intellectual when I say, “Oh, I’ve never seen ‘The Wire.’ I don’t really watch TV.” (This is a lie and a half. I just only watch mediocre sitcoms and “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” which is decidedly anti-intellectual and actually kind of embarrassing, especially since sometimes I start fantasizing about how fun it would be to go on a culinary tour of the Midwest with Guy Fieri in his convertible. What can I say? I’m a sucker for frosted tips.)

things that will indefinitely cause me existential worry:

1. holding babies: I got to hold my boss’s itty-bitty month-old infant last night. I tried to tell him that holding babies gives me an aneurysm, but he just laughed at me and told me that it isn’t that hard. Which it isn’t… but man, if I had dropped that baby, I would TOTALLY be fired. (I did not drop the baby, and there is photographic proof that I held it properly. I might have even managed to wipe the look of terror from my eyes for the length of the flash.)

thoughts on living alone

The knock came last night around eight. I froze in panic, hoping that my inertia would somehow trick the visitor into believing I wasn’t home in spite of the lights and the television and the fact that until the knock, I had been belting out Brandi Carlile. I waited motionless in my desk chair until the danger passed, left the TV and the lights on, and wondered if I could escape through my kitchen window if they broke in through the front door or if I would end up like The Shining.

They didn’t knock again. The panic receded.

I wonder what they wanted. I wasn’t expecting a package or a pizza or the cable guy. I haven’t met any of my neighbors yet; perhaps one was stopping by to introduce themselves or give me some Christmas cookies or beg me to please God please stop singing all the time. (In my defense, only one of my walls backs up to another unit, and I never sing near that wall unless my neighbor is playing TV really loudly, in which case I think I’m justified. Also, I am the reincarnation of Karen Carpenter, and they should appreciate the nightly free concert.)

I didn’t consider answering the door. I live alone and I’ve been led to believe by our misogynist collective wisdom that a woman living alone who dares to answer the door is akin to a woman who wears a short skirt in public: she’s basically asking to be robbed/raped/murdered. (This is sarcasm. Enjoy it.) I’ll continue to tell myself that it was a kind neighbor or a lost delivery boy because I relish living alone and I don’t want it to become part of my omnipresent low-grade panic, which is usually fixated on more pressing matters like whether I’ve gained a quarter-inch on my waist or if the next flight I take will crash into the Rockies or when I’m going to make a critical error at work and get fired. I don’t want to add to that the possibility that I’ll be murdered by an axe-wielding stranger.

I often feel incompetent; I’m young and look even younger and I don’t generally present myself in a way that makes people take me seriously. (I don’t say this to insult myself. I’m just kind of… a young person. Like, my spirit animal is a baby pigeon, and I’m willing to post a phrase like that under my own name on the Internet.) To say that I live alone lends me an air of credibility: oh, you live alone! You Swiffer your own floors and toast your own bagels and write your own rent checks! (Is it me or do those all sound like bad euphemisms for masturbation?) I spend more than I should on rent and I’ve built a lot of furniture alone that was meant to be assembled by more than one person. I’m probably doomed to be crushed by a bookcase because I couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the wall using the included wall attachment kit so I just… didn’t.

The joys of living alone are well-documented. You only have to wipe your own hair out of the shower. If the dishes lay crusted over in the sink for a week, you know exactly whose bed to dump them on. Nobody will sing opera in the shower while you’re lying in bed trying to sleep off an inadvisable series of whiskey gingers. I’ve had my share of roommate adventures–senior year of college in a wasp-infested glorified double-wide with my four best friends; a ratty walk-up in Astoria with three strangers from Craigslist; a converted three-bedroom separated from campus by a graveyard with two girls, two kittens, two guitars, and a saxophone for four months in 2008–and I can state definitively that all these benefits outweigh the occasional bout of existential angst that interminable hours alone can beget.

I wonder sometimes if I’ll turn into a weird old lady who lives alone with a lot of cats and a garage full of newspapers. As it stands, I’m a weird young lady with a lot of books and a faux leather storage ottoman full of journals. The world makes me anxious and I derive a lot of comfort from retreating into my house and writing for hours, reading for hours, watching “How I Met Your Mother” for hours.

I have one or two friends that I could live with and I like to think that one day I’ll love someone enough to stand their toothpaste stains on my bathroom countertop. In the meantime, I’ll continue to live blissfully alone, to relish the hours I spend in the company of my own mind, to pass hours in exciting places with friends and to come home to the comfort of my sheets that may or may not have been washed in the past… month or two. I think that of all the things that I’m grateful for right now–and it’s a laundry list if there ever was one–living alone is near the top. It is a gift.

Where was I? A stranger knocked at my door, and there was nobody there to defend me but me? I suppose I can handle an axe murderer, so long as I don’t have to clean their hair out of my shower drain.